20th Oct 2017 3:52 PM | Updated: 4:56 PM
FAKE kelp forests, would you believe, are the latest technology in the race to design an effective repellent to sharks.
The inspiration for the barrier was the observation that Cape fur seals used kelp forests as a natural protection from white sharks.
The inventors also recognised that sharks were deterred by strong magnets.
Combining the two, they created a new kind of shark deterrent with big eco-friendly credentials.
The end product, called the SharkSafe Barrier, has been “100% successful” during peer-reviewed trials in shark infested waters off South Africa and the Bahama, according to its inventors.
The new barrier appears to be a far more elegant solution than the failed barriers which had to be abandoned at Lighthouse Beach and Lennox Head (at an undisclosed cost to the NSW Government).
Instead of using kelp, the team of four inventors came up with the idea of using sections of buoyant black piping to mimick its colour and movement in the currents.
At the base of the lengths of pipe are powerful barium ferrite magnets designed as an additional shark repellent.
The company says the barrier “bio-mimics the visual effects of a kelp forest, and combines this with a series of permanent magnetic stimuli, to form a barrier that dissuades sharks from passing through”.
During prototype testing in South Africa and the Bahamas, a crew chummed waters inside the barrier to attract sharks and none of the 84 white sharks and 41 bull sharks swam through it.
The barrier repelled the sharks even when a large bucket of fish was put in the 15sqm enclosure to tempt them.
In good news for surfers, the barrier has proven to resist swells as high as eight metres and has been “maintenance free” for the past two years at one location in South Africa – suggesting it is very cost-effective long-term.
It can also be deployed up to 12m deep – more than enough to protect Lighthouse Beach.
The company claims the technology is the first one to be “shark-specific”, in that it doesn’t deter other animals, even large marine mammals such as seals or dolphins.
It also doesn’t harm any marine life at all.
The Northern Star has sent questions to the company about the cost of installing a beach-sized barrier roughly the equivalent of the length of Lighthouse Beach at Ballina.
Questions have also been put to the NSW Department of Primary Industries about whether the product, which has been in the testing phase for some time, was ever discussed at the NSW Government’s Shark Summit in 2015.
In response, a DPI spokeswoman said the department aware of the technology but it was only in the “early stages of development” in 2015 when the original shark summit was held.
“The NSW Govenment’s Shark Management Strategy is testing and trialling a range of new technologies,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.
“We are interested in talking with anyone with new technologies and particularly in technologies that have been independently and scientifically tested and trialled in Australian conditions.” Perhaps that is an invitation for SharkSafe to get in touch.